Normally, posts in the “Ask Addie” series are published on Off the Page. However, due to the political nature of this particular question, we’re over here today instead. Politics makes everything complicated, especially for faith organizations that seek to speak and minister across party lines.
Still, I felt compelled to answer, so I’m doing it here. (You can read older Ask Addie columns at Off the Page here, and I’ll be back there later this month answering another question. If you have one, you can submit it here!)
Over 80% of my (white) evangelical brothers and sisters expressed their fear for the mystical (white) body and allowed themselves to be the manipulated yet again […]
Being someone with a respectable following like yourself – at what point does a best-selling church pastor realize there are no more platitudes to hide behind? “We just preach Jesus” is no longer a convenient excuse. Jesus is politics. Should the “Christian Living” regulars continue to hide behind “I just preach Jesus” or do they have a spiritual obligation to speak out?
Jesus is politics, and I believe that a lot of our favorite voices, those blessed with much, will have to answer up as to why they didn’t directly call out to their flock as it was being led away slowly by a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Cowardice or apathy? Over 80% or these fluffy white sheep followed the wolf, again, where was the King’s shepherds? Writing about identity 2.0? Planning a real banger for the next Life youth rally? Carefully going over that Gospel Coalition talk that’s just convicting enough, but doesn’t say point blank: “Donald Trump is essentially the antithesis of our King.” Yes be yes, no be no.
This isn’t new. And this past election only serves as the pinnacle of this manipulation our brothers and sisters.
In the same vain of that wonderful “Dear Sugar”…
WWJD?? WWJD??!! WWJD???!!!!!
WTFWJD is more appropriate for 2017.
Mt 7:22 Resist.
I spent a lot of time in my on fire high school years saying the things that people told me I was supposed to say.
That’s pretty normal, I think. As children, we learn to speak by mimicking the sounds of those around us. In much the same way, I learned the language and cadence of faith from those around me at the time: the white, suburban evangelicals that made up my church congregation; the grittier, tattooed Christians (still mostly white) who ran the Saturday night youth-church that I attended; the columns of Focus on the Family’s Brio magazine; the lyrics of Christian “rock” CDs that I played on my 5-disc CD player boom box.
I spent my formative years absorbing this language and speaking it loudly and indiscriminately to anyone who would listen. There was an expectation that if you loved Jesus at all, if you cared about the eternal security of your friends and family, you would speak up, and the language you would use was this language – Do you have a relationship with God? or Do you know, for sure, where you’re going when you die?
More than a decade later, I came stumbling into the world of blogging and social media. I came because I’d written a book in grad school and because apparently you have to have an “online presence” to be a published author these days.
I came to blogging straight from the MFA-world with its smart and pretentious literati, with it’s long discussions about form and structure and emotional truth. I came from the genres of memoir and creative nonfiction, from long complex sentences and spiraling essays that spanned reams of paper and dozens of revisions. I never totally figured out Twitter or Facebook. My blog posts are always, like, a thousand words too long.
Grad school and those early days of writing and blogging became a kind of language school for me. It was in these spaces that I began to chip away at the tinny language of a Christian subculture and started learning, instead, what it might mean to be attentive to the language that God uses with me. To the language that I use with God.
I have been learning, over these past years, to stay near to my own authenticity, not because I somehow have it more right than others, but because the only voice that I can use with any kind of honesty is my own.
Which brings us to our current complicated political landscape. You’re right, Drew. You can’t divorce Jesus from his historical context, from a people struggling to live in a brutal empire, from that revolutionary Sermon on the Mount – which paints an upside-down kingdom that elevates the poor and the powerless above those who have been #blessed with white privilege and suburban wealth. To do so is to miss an important facet of who Christ is and of who God is.
We are, all of us, responsible for helping to usher in the Kingdom of God. We are tasked with the work of defending the widow, the orphan, the stranger; we are called to an expansive kingdom where there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11)
Our work has to do with being emissaries of that Kingdom in the midst of this turbulent, violent one. We can’t hide behind platitudes, you’re right.
But also, we each have been given our own particular voice. And there is more than one way to speak up.
I am deeply grateful for the prophetic voices on the Internet who are able to wade well into these political and cultural waters in the heat of the moment, who stay grounded in the tumultuous spaces of the social media world, and in doing so, offer lifeboats to others. (I think of D.L. Mayfield, who writes about the refugee community, of Austin Channing, who writes so powerfully about racial reconciliation, of the many smart and eloquent journalists who are asking important questions in these uncertain times.)
I value the work that they do. It was, of all things, a Facebook meme that finally made me sign up with our local refugee center and begin sorting clothes. But I’ve never been good at social media. And to try to mimic those who are would be a betrayal of the voice that God has given me – one that is considerably less certain, less obvious, less Tweetable.
My voice is filled with my own grief and uncertainty and complicity. It is formed in my Enneagram-4-type heart, which is always so desperate to get below the surface and, simultaneously, to feel understood. It is informed by my introverted tendencies, which seem to translate even to online spaces. I have always worked most naturally in narrative forms; I have dreaded the persuasive essay ever since they started assigning them in the second grade. This is what my voice sounds like.
It’s taken me more than a decade to figure that out. To chip away enough of the learned Christian cliché to find the imperfect voice that is authentically mine.
To put it another way, it took me years of existential angst to figure out that I didn’t have to stand in front of a crowd and give my three-minute-testimony in order to talk about Jesus. That I could talk about God and grace and resurrection in the context of my own doubts and fears and failures. In my angry first memoir. In my worn and winding second one.
And if you want to know the truth, all of this pressure to tweet, blog, Facebook-post against the corrupt kingdom of this world feels eerily similar to me to being forced to write and rewrite that 3-minuter with its closing Sinner’s Prayer before summer missions trips.
I’ll be damned if I go down that road again.
So as November approached this past year, I wrote Psalm for a Volatile Election. In the aftermath, I wrote Beatitudes for the Week After the Election. Both of those pieces probably feel as indirect and cowardly to you as the Gospel Coalition talk that you mention. But whatever those posts are or aren’t, I can tell you with absolute certainty, that they were written by a person who is trying to stay near to her own imperfect heart and to tell the truth about it.
You included a reference to Matthew 7:22 in your question, a bit that begins like this:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
And the will of God, the prophet Micah tells us is simply this: to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Which makes me think of something the original Dear Sugar once wrote: “Do you know what that is, sweet pea? To be humble? The word comes from the Latin words humilis and humus. To be down low. To be of the earth. To be on the ground.”
We cannot do our work from the grandiose heights of holy anger (though it might be the spark that inspires us to action). We cannot do it, either, from the depths of self-loathing and guilt. “We get the work done on the ground level,” Sugar says. “And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor.”
So WTF did Jesus do?
He stayed low. He became of the earth. He walked the dusty roads of this world. He saw the people that no one else did. He touched. He listened. He healed. He resisted, but his resistance didn’t look like anything anyone had imagined.
When people asked him what to do about government and taxes, he baffled them all by saying, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” They never could seem to pin him down or get him to say it straight. He was always offering some strange third-way kind of solution; he was always messing with their idea of what a Messiah would actually be.
It’s frustrating, I know. I know that you feel that if the evangelical heavyweights had just said something, we might be living a different reality right now. But we learn from the Jesus story that change doesn’t usually happen through the religious elite. Rather it happens through those following Love through the dusty streets of the world.
WTFWJD? you ask.
There might be a better question.
Something like: What is mine to do?
Or: What does speaking out look like for me in particular?
For me, right now, it looks like spending a lot of time on the ground. It’s been reading Elizabeth Strout’s fiction about a Somali community in rural Maine and watching Shonda Rhimes take on white privilege in episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. It’s writing an angsty election Psalm every now and then. It’s learning to speak from a place of belovedness rather than a place of fear and reactivity.
And it’s been scratching out stories, trying out new fictions, delving into characters, trying to find a way to tell the truth about what I see around me and in my own heart. It has been private, not because I am ashamed or apathetic but because I’m still tuning, still revising, still listening, still working.
I know you’re angry, Drew. It’s okay to be angry, to be mad-as-hell at the religious elite. You can be mad at me, too, if you want (though I think you have some illusions about the size of my “following”). But the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass back on the floor.
This is where the real kingdom work happens.
This is where you find your voice.
And this is where we change the world.